Biopolitics, Terry Schiavo and the Sovereign Subject of Death

New paper: Biopolitics, Terry Schiavo and the Sovereign Subject of Death.
(doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhn029).

By Jeffrey P. Bishop.

Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination. (Foucault, 1984, 85)

In this essay, I take a note from Michel Foucault regarding the notion of biopolitics. For Foucault, biopolitics has both repressive and constitutive properties. Foucault’s claim is that with the rise of modern government, the state became exceedingly concerned about the body politic, the bodies that make up the polis, including the health of those bodies. However, Giorgio Agamben claims that Foucault and all western political philosophy misses the relationship between power and Sovereignty, with disastrous results and totalizing tendencies. I explore the case of Terri Schiavo claiming that the social conservatives have attempted to politicize bare life in its legal maneuverings, but I also show how the social liberals open an uncontrollable space between life and death. Both the left and the right miss the aporia at the heart of western political philosophy, and bioethics is complicit in the totalizing effects of contemporary medicine.

Keywords: bare life, biopolitics, Schiavo, sovereignty, sovereign power


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